Ailes, Murdoch and how Gretchen Carlson used the Dark Arts

Co-host of Fox and Friends Gretchen Carlson du...

Co-host of Fox and Friends Gretchen Carlson during an interview. Cropped and balanced. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes rose to, and remained in, power by the benefit of journalism’s “dark arts” and their ability to do “favors”. The dark arts refer to illegal or potentially illegal activities. They are such acts as phone hacking, impersonation, secretly taping someone, entrapping them, going through their garbage, or their relatives, neighbors, and friend’s garbage to find personal information.[1] Other techniques were to pay people to “blag” information, where someone pretends to be the target to get access to their personal information. “Blaggers” would gain access to bank statements, mortgage details, or medical diagnosis. In some cases, editors or journalists or people that were paid by them would suborn public officials[2], bribe people, or coerce others to disclose the information they wanted. All of this was always justified as being in the public interest.

You do me a favour and I will do you a favour.

Armed with this personal information, journalists and editors would exploit it to sell their media products. They also served a larger purpose beyond the stories. The information and the threat of the stories would benefit Murdoch and Ailes. As Murdoch explained at Leveson, the information, or the threat of its use, could be used to do or receive a “favor”.[3] However, none of this would succeed unless there was evidence to back it up. The editors and journalists would know that evidence, physical evidence or a reliable witness was needed to make the story “stand up”. In the phone hacking stories, the recorded messages were copied.[4] Without the recorded messages, they would have nothing to ask a “favor”. Without this evidence, they could lose libel or defamation cases worth thousands of dollars or pounds.

Murdoch and Ailes are experienced, remorseless, operators.

In their approach to tabloid journalism and media power, they would make it known that they gave no quarter. As a result, their editors and journalists would give no quarter to their intended target. They either buckled to their pressure or they would be “monstered”.[5] Only in a rare circumstance would the target escape their grip. Their business success, market share, and reputation demonstrated the success of this business model. More important than money, though, was the power and influence it gave them. Now, though, the tables have been turned with dramatic effect.

Live by the recording, die by the recording.

Gretchen Carlson recorded several conversations with Roger Ailes. These recordings have not been made public. We do not know what is on them. However, their existence was sufficient to achieve a $20 million legal settlement.[6] She has used the dark arts against its masters. She used their own technique to hold them to account. She has shown the public and the other media figures what is needed to fight sexual harassment.[7] It is not policies or training. It was a secret recording. Therein we see the toxicity of Fox News culture as HR policies never changed the culture. From now on, sexual harassers and those who tolerate them will have to worry that the intended victims have a record.[8]

When will the next recording emerge?

As companies realize the threat, they will take steps to counter it. The question now is whether similar recordings will emerge and when they do, what will they accomplish?

[1] “In journalism, the term ‘dark arts’ can be defined as a journalist doing unethical practices of journalism, to gain a story or a scoop. These practices include: phone hacking, bribery, secret recording, false identity, breaking the law, betraying friends/family, putting friends/family in danger and putting yourself in danger. However, each of these practices can lead to a great story in journalism.”



[4] It is why they are kept in a safe within the newspapers. The Sun has a safe that holds various items, documents, recordings, and files that could be used to obtain a “favour”.

[5] For an example of what it means to be “monstered” consider the case of Chris Jefferies.


[7] However, it is not as easy as that since the employer has the power to force such cases to mediation, which gives them an institutional and legal advantage.


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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1 Response to Ailes, Murdoch and how Gretchen Carlson used the Dark Arts

  1. Pingback: If you work at Fox News, you enabled Roger Ailes | Thoughts on management

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